When I started to get interested in Zen it meant for me that ‘practicing Zen’ was reading about Zen. For a philosophy that is said not to be based upon words there is an enormous amount of texts to choose from. So the first problem is: what do you read? Some books are easy to read while others don’t seem to make any sense the first time you read them. The good ones do start to make sense if you read them again (and again.. and again). The bad ones stay bad, even after a second or third read. But how do you know what the good ones are ?
It will take a lot of time: reading, thinking , re-reading, disposing of what doesn’t work, trying out what seems to work…. etc.
You can spent a life-time reading about Zen and you will experience progress, but it won’t be much.
And so this is what I did for a long time: reading, thinking and even sometimes some meditation, or Zazen as it is called in Zen. But I didn’t like it very much and didn’t think it was important. I didn’t even bother to buy a proper cushion. It was hard to sit up straight, my back started to hurt and after a few minutes I would quit.
But then I got into a very difficult period in my life and I couldn’t concentrate enough to even read about Zen. So as a last result I did buy a Zafu (cushion) and even a Zabuton (under-cushion).
I hoped to find some peace of mind this way.
And it worked!
Zen is something you have to experience and can’t be learned by reading about it. It’s a practice to learn your mind to look at itself. And because this is very difficult you have to practice a lot to even get near. Nobody thinks it is possible to learn how to ride a bicycle by reading about it. It’s the same with Zen, by sitting you learn your mind and body how to deal with disturbances and how to react to it.
That is the way.